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The Shelf Care Interview: Irene Hannon

The Shelf Care Interview - Irene Hannon, 2

Welcome to the Shelf Care Interview, an occasional conversation series where Booklist talks to book people.

This Shelf Care Interview is sponsored by Revell.

In this episode of the Shelf Care Interview, Susan Maguire talks to romance author Irene Hannon (whose name you may recognize from our November episode), the best-selling, RITA Award-winning author of more than 50 romantic suspense, contemporary romance, and women’s fiction novels. Her books have appeared on multiple best-seller lists and three and a half million copies of her books have been sold worldwide and translated into multiple languages.

Starfish Pier, a Hope Harbor novel, comes out on March 31, 2020, from Revell.

You can listen to this Shelf Care Interview here. This transcript has been edited for clarity.


SUSAN MAGUIRE: Thank you for joining me again, Irene Hannon.

IRENE HANNON: It’s a pleasure to be here.

When we spoke back in November, we talked about Dark Ambitions, which is a much different book. It was, as the title suggests, dark romantic suspense. So tell us about Starfish Pier.

Well Starfish Pier is very different. I do write in the two genres—I write romantic suspense and I write contemporary romance—so this is a very different kind of book. It doesn’t have the life-threatening, cliff-hanging, life-and-death scenes that a romantic suspense has, but it does have plenty of drama. Starfish Pier is set in a little town, the fictional town on the Oregon coast called Hope Harbor. I’ve done quite a few books set in Hope Harbor and I should just tell any listeners if they’re hearing this and thinking, “Oh, well I haven’t read any of those other books so I can’t read this one . . . “: whenever I write a series, every book is written as a stand-alone novel, so there are no plot threads that carry over from book to book. There is a new cast of characters with every book, the story begins and ends with each book.

I was going to mention that. This is my first Hope Harbor novel and I was going to say the official librarian word is that you can start here. You don’t have to start at the beginning.

Yes, absolutely. The common element in the book is the town, is Hope Harbor, so every story is different and so you can kind of visit Hope Harbor at whatever stage you want with whatever book you want. So this book is number six. There are two more contracted and we’ll see beyond that what happens. But this book features Holly Miller, she is new to town, she’s a first-grade teacher. And she has moved to Hope Harbor because she’s really looking for a more independent lifestyle. She has some physical challenges that she’s dealing with and has very loving parents who pretty much coddled her, and she feels like it’s time to strike out and see what she can do on her own. So she’s not a typical romance novel heroine in the sense that so many people complain, “Oh, all those romance heroines, they’re just these perfect women physically.” Not this time.

So she has some challenges she’s dealing with. She’s new in Hope Harbor and she gets kind of involved in a local organization. They’re a charitable organization and they enlist her help with a fundraising dinner for a cause that’s near and dear to her heart. And one of the things she’s supposed to do is go solicit donations for this charitable auction dinner. And so, she approaches the hero—that would be Steven Roark—and he is not from Hope Harbor, but he grew up in the area. He is ex-military. He’s been back in town a year. He’s a charter fisherman and he’s kind of come back to hope Harbor because his younger brother is dealing with some issues, and he’s made zero progress with his younger brother in a year. So Holly approaches him about this donation and when he finds out what the cause is that this dinner is for, he has no real interest because it’s not a cause that he feels he can or should support.

And that brings up one of the big challenges in this book. One of the big conflicts is that these two characters are drawn to each other and they like each other, but they have a pretty big disagreement on a pretty big moral issue. And so that is a thread that runs throughout the book because their paths began to intertwine after that. They also find themselves on opposite sides of an issue that’s threatening to sort of divide this charming little town for the same sort of reason. So the story follows them all along the way with some secondary story lines also happening that support this basic thesis. The issue for them becomes, how do you accommodate differences in moral beliefs without compromising or capitulating your own moral beliefs? So that’s the thread that runs through this whole book on a number of different levels, and with a number of different characters actually.

I want to talk about Holly and Steven, but before we do that, you mentioned that this town gets—embroiled might be too strong of a word—but, you know, folks come up on different sides of an issue. I don’t want to be too spoiler-y I guess.

It’s hard to talk about without giving too much away.

So hopefully this is a spoiler-free question. I was wondering if you could talk about the town of Hope Harbor, if it’s based on someplace or if you had something mind, and how you populated the town with all these people who get along but disagree and . . .

Yes, absolutely. Well, you know, Hope Harbor is a microcosm of any other town with many different personalities, many different characters, many different points of view. So you can take all the things that happen in a larger town and still have them happen in a small town. But what happened with Hope Harbor was this: I was writing romantic suspense for my publisher, and I really had started contemporary romance many years ago with a different publisher. And I wanted to kind of get back into that, in addition to my suspense work. So I wrote a couple books for them and then I had this idea for this town set on the Oregon coast, which became Hope Harbor; I proposed it to them initially as a stand-alone book, although in the back of my mind—and in the back of theirs—was the thought that if readers embraced this town, it could potentially be a long-running series.

They said, “Let’s try this.” So I went to Oregon. I had never been, I had only read about it, but it sounded so charming and so beautiful and so romantic, and I thought, I have to go do a research trip now that I’m doing this book. So I traveled the coast from top to bottom. Just learned so much about so many things including things like seagull romance, which shows up in my book—that adds a little touch of humor to the stories. And I created this town of Hope Harbor and we did the first book. And the reaction was just beyond what either of us expected. Readers loved it.

Although the main characters are pretty much new in every book, and some do make cameos in subsequent books, there are a handful of characters that are in every story and a couple of which always add some level of levity. Because even though I deal with serious subjects in my books, you know, how can we live if we can’t also laugh? There has to be some laughter in our life, and in the book. So my seagull couple, Floyd and Gladys, are great for adding a little bit of humor here and there. And I have these two clerics in town, they’re the pastors of two different churches and they’re just the best of friends. But they have this ongoing banter and sort of rivalry. It’s a stitch and they add a touch of humor.

“It is a romance novel, but you know, there are so many different kinds of love in this world. And I try in my books not to just show the romantic love, because there are a lot of different levels and a lot of different ways we love. “

Then the other character that is in every book is Charley Lopez, and he runs a taco stand on the wharf. He’s also a renowned artist. He’s kind of the town philosopher, he always has a kind word, good advice. Knows a little bit more about people than you might think he would know. And I have to tell you, readers of all of the 50 books I have written and all of the characters in those 50 books, Charley Lopez has gotten the most reader comments and mail of all of them put together. So he is just a beloved character and now is in every book. So he’s always there and people just can’t wait to read about him again.

I actually wanted to ask you sort of tangentially about Charley Lopez . . . When you were traveling in Oregon, did you discover a favorite fish taco place? Because the fish tacos in Starfish Pier were very vivid.

They are. They’re very vivid. And here’s the ironic thing. I did not even see a fish taco while I was in Oregon. It’s just the most amazing thing. I sampled all kinds of other food. In fact, the cinnamon rolls that are at Sweet Dreams Bakery in my book are based on cinnamon rolls I ate in a bakery in Oregon. And a lot of what you see in the book is a compilation of things that I found on that initial research trip. But fish tacos were not among them.

Oh, you haven’t had any? Oh my gosh.

I have never had one. You know, living in the Midwest, it’s tough to get really good fresh fish tacos. So the next time I go to the coast I am going to find somewhere that has fish tacos and sample than myself. They won’t be as good as Charley’s though. I already know that.

I feel like you need to share photographic proof that you’ve had a fish taco.

I will have to do that. If I get to the coast and there’s time and I’m sitting there eating, I’ll have to be sure to post that on my social media. But like I said, I know that it won’t be as good as Charley’s. His are just, you know, magical tacos. So . . .

You talked about Holly being a unique romance heroine because she has . . . I don’t know if it’s a spoiler to say she has a condition that makes getting around sometimes difficult.

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, she definitely has physical challenges.

And one thing that I really liked about the book is that it showed different ways that she is loved. You know, her parents are very nervous for her and they in some way sort of see her as a child. And so their love can be a little bit smothering. But Steven, once he learns the truth, kind of trusts her to let him know what she can handle. I’m not sure there’s a question there.

That’s very true. You know, one of the things I like to do in my romance novels . . . people always think that they’re always about romantic love. And of course that is a main theme in these books. It is a romance novel, but you know, there are so many different kinds of love in this world. And I try in my books not to just show the romantic love, because there are a lot of different levels and a lot of different ways we love. And like you said in this book, we see the love her parents have for her and that she has for them. And the challenges that can sometimes cause as well, because love can tend to be smothering in some cases, and people have to know when to back off and when not to back off. And there’s also just the love we have for the people who enter our lives. Holly’s neighbor: there’s a good example of that.

She has a new neighbor who comes to town and her heart goes out to him because he’s by himself and he’s not friendly, and yet she feels that he needs this human connection. And so just because of brotherly love—to use that very generic term that everybody knows—and compassion, she seeks him out. And so there is love demonstrated. And also with Steven and his brother, that’s sibling love. He came all the way back because he cared so much about his brother. And of course his brother feels like he’s just intruding on his life, so there’s a challenge there. How do you help somebody who doesn’t necessarily want to be helped? So all of this stuff is going on in this book. It’s not just a romance that’s being featured here.

Right. It’s a love story in many ways. And, of course, a seagull love story.

Yes. Yes, Floyd and Gladys, it’s great. And the people who have read book one actually learn the backstory of the seagull couple, because they hook up in the first book of the series. I didn’t know this, but when I was doing my Oregon trip, I learned seagulls actually mate for life, and they go through a period of mourning if they lose their mate. And so that’s what was going on with Floyd in the first book. But in the first book, he too finds a happy ending and so now Floyd and Gladys are in every book. And they’re so much fun to write. In fact, readers love them so much now that they are also on every cover. If you look on every cover you will see the two seagulls.

I see them! I’m looking at the book right now.

Yes, we started adding them because they’re in every book and readers love them. So we started adding them to every cover.

We are going to wrap up talking about Starfish Pier. Like I said, it’s coming out at the end of March. You mentioned having a couple more Hope Harbor books maybe coming out. Can you give us a sneak preview or . . .

Yes, in fact the next book in Hope Harbor will be out about this same time next year. I do one romantic suspense a year and I do one contemporary romance, and right now, those are the Hope Harbor books. The main character is alluded to at the end of this book. There’s a new high-end coffee place in town and the owner of that shop is going to be the hero of the next book. And he has a very interesting story. He’s relatively new to Hope Harbor and he is coming there after making a radical change in his life. And the heroine . . . I can’t say too much about her, because she just kind of shows up in his coffee shop one day and she’s a stranger to town. And she’s rented a house on the outskirts of town, really keeps to herself. So she obviously has some secrets, but it turns out she’s rented the house that is right next door to the hero, unknowingly.

They end up connecting and seeing each other. And she has a very interesting story, too, because she is at the point in her life where she’s got to make some really major decisions about where she goes from there. That’s kind of a quick preview of the next book.

As anyone who’s read any other Hope Harbor novels, know you can’t keep secrets and you can’t stay too closed off for long in that town.

Yes, it’s very, definitely a small town, but it’s also a very welcoming, loving place. It’s the kind a lot of readers have said, “I wish there was a town like Hope Harbor where people really cared about each other because I would move there.”

Yeah. With fish tacos.

Yes, of course. And cinnamon buns, cinnamon rolls from Sweet Dreams Bakery.

I’ll take it! Let’s found this town.

And then as of the next book, it’ll even have a really great coffee shop. So what’s not to like?

There’s nothing missing. Thank you so much for chatting with me, Irene Hannon, and thank you everyone for listening to the Shelf Care Interview.

This Shelf Care Interview was sponsored by Revell, publisher of Irene Hannon’s Starfish Pier, available March 2020. Happy reading!'

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